Saturday, June 17, 2006

Letter from the Birmingham Convention Center, 2

One's view of the assembly becomes quite myopic when the entire day is spent in the confines of a single committee -- especially when it is committee 8, on budgets and mission priorities. None of the hot-button issues are coming our way. Instead, we are reviewing the budget and mission plans of the reconstituted General Assembly Council. All of the concerns related to the recent downsizing of staff at Louisville come our way. It could be quite depressing what with all of the budget cuts and revenue loss, but it has been, instead, remarkably hope filled.
The tide turned from an attitude of scarcity to one of abundance on the first night of the assembly when an elder and businessman from Colorado stood before the entire assembly and told the story of how the church had been present for his grandmother when she was left widowed with seven children (don't quote me on the number of kids!), and how the church had been there for his family in his own childhood as well. It was a sweet story, gently told. All of us anticipated, I believe, that we were about to be told of a generous gift. I suspect we shared similar thoughts: "this guy is going to give the church six figures ... perhaps a million dollars."
I'm sure such news would have been received with great gladness, but when he quietly announced that, this fall, his foundation will provide a gift to the PC(USA) of $150 million there was an audible intake of breath and a moment of absolutely stunned silence.
That single gift, surely the largest such in the history of our church, electrified the assembly and, at least in my little committee, it left us with a sense of great hope. The attitude has been reinforced for us by the report of outgoing moderator, Rick Ufford-Chase (above). His passion, energy and enthusiasm for the church and its mission is positively viral.
Of course, none of that does anything to move us closer to peace with justice, unity with equality and purity with hospitality and radical welcome. Hearings on the report of the Peace, Unity, Purity Task Force began yesterday and went on well into the evening. I heard very little about it. Check the news for a broader perspective at this point. Likewise on ordination. The handful of mean-spirited marriage overtures were not recommended by the committee that heard them although the votes were closer in committee than progressives would like.
All of those issues, along with divestment concerns, will come before the entire assembly next week. Meanwhile, I go back to my quiet committee in a back corner of the convention center hoping that hope itself, renewed by generosity, might possibly open other hearts at this assembly when those issues come before us. Scarcity leads to fear -- the beginning of the path to the dark side, as my favorite theologian, Yoda, might say. Abundance, on the other hand, is an attitude the shapes the path of hope, faith and love. We shall see.

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